Criterion: A Woman Under the Influence
A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, JOHN CASSAVETES, 1974
What I love about Criterion is that they tend to canonize the most important films. When something is added to the collection, it’s for a good reason (even if I disagree on occasion, and let’s not get into Armaggedon). That’s why when I revisit a Criterion film that I thought was poor or mediocre, I will often re-evaluate. Sometimes the supplements or commentaries will help guide my opinion by pointing out things that I missed, or sometimes it is simply giving the film another chance and watching it a second time. The latter is what happened here.
The first time I saw the film, I was blown away by the performances, but felt that Cassavetes got a little carried away with himself. He let scenes go on too long, far past when the point was made. He seemed so proud of the performances, and rightfully so, that he did not want to interfere.
After a second viewing, I still have that feeling, yet I’ve come around to Cassavetes’ way of thinking. Part of this is because I’ve also fallen even more for Gena and Peter’s performances, and I found that I almost didn’t want the scenes to end. The fact that they sustained their characters for such lengthy and powerful scenes speaks volumes about their dedication and what they brought to the characters. The spaghetti and doctor scenes were where this was more apparent. They go on a long time, but the acting is magical, even if what happens is awkward and unsettling. At 2.5 hours, Cassavetes could have still trimmed a couple scenes or tightened a couple others up, but I am a little more forgiving of that now.
Another reason why I am more enamored of the movie now is because I’ve looked at it in proper context. Shadows was concurrent with the French New Wave and Faces was inspired by it, while this version was on the heels and owes a slight debt to the American New Wave. However, like his other films, it is wholly original and distinctively a Cassavetes. He is imitating nobody, although plenty of people who try (and mostly fail) to imitate him later. For the time period, this type of independent character exploration was revolutionary, and is probably one of the key origins for the indie movement that would follow in the 80s and 90s.
Film Rating: 8/10
Commentary: Unlike the usual commentaries with directors, actors, or historians, this was unique because it had the sound recordist and the composer. That worked well given the Cassavetes method. They described a lot of the inexpensive techniques with a lot of fascinating stories about the cast and crew. The most interesting part was hearing them describe seeing Gena and Peter give their performances, how they were when not in character, and simply seeing such amazing performances as they happened.
Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk conversation: Even though they had both aged, especially Falk (RIP), you could see they had a rapport and fond memories of their experience with this movie. They shared some neat anecdotes, like how Cassavetes would call theaters in big cities that were showing films he liked. Some would turn them down, but they would all take his call.
1975 Audio Interview with Cassavetes: I’m not crazy about it when Criterion places audio recordings on the disc. It’s not that the content is not interesting. Usually it is the opposite. The problem is that DVD is not the best method for audio only. I listened to only a little bit of this recording.
Criterion Rating: 8.5/10